The depreciation of loyalty

Not that long ago, being loyal was a commendable trait.

It was something that people looked for in others, and that people strived to be in personal and business relationships.

Being loyal was praised, noteworthy, and, at times, rewarded, as Granny discovered one morning.

The old gal came in giddy as a school girl with a cupcake, clutching a small silver tray in her hands.

“Lookey what I got,” she exclaimed, showing off her pretty.

“What is it?” Mama asked, barely looking up from her crossword.

“It’s a silver tray,” Granny said.

“What did you get it for?” Mama asked.

“It was a gift,” Granny said.
“That’s nice,” Mama replied.

“Don’t you want to know who gave it to me?” the old gal asked.

Mama sighed, realizing Granny was not going to leave her to her crossword in peace until she did. “Okay, who gave it to you?”

“I got it at Sanders’ furniture. I went by there to look at recliners – your daddy is about due for a new chair – and I popped in and they called me over there and gave me this lovely silver tray.” She held it up for Mama’s inspection. “Ain’t it fancy?”

Now, the little silver tray was not anything super special. It was maybe about 5 inches long and three inches wide, not big enough to be used as a serving tray, so I had no idea what use Granny would have for it.

But to Granny, it was one of the finest things she had.

It was free, and it was given to her in a gesture of appreciation, two things the old gal loved.

Mama was suddenly intrigued. “They gave you that just because you were in there looking at a chair?” she asked.

“Yup. It was for customer appreciation. I ain’t heard of that before, but I sure do like it. I think other places need to start giving me something when I go in there.”

Mama twisted her mouth. “I bought a sofa and loveseat in there last month. Where’s my tray?”

“You’ll need to go up there and get it,” Granny said.

And Mama did. She delayed finishing her crossword long enough to drive to town to find out what this customer appreciation thing was about.

When she returned, she had her own tray. We were suddenly a two-tray family then. But more importantly, Mama and Granny felt like their business was appreciated, which made them loyal customers.

Being valued as a customer was something that for a brief while was the norm.

Even if it the little gifts were branding for the business to give them free advertising, it was a token of appreciation and made us feel good about doing business with the company.

At least until some places started offering discounts and incentives to entice people to switch from their tried and true companies. It worked too. People would fall for the bait and change who and where they did their business.

Not me. I came from a family that had two silver trays because of their loyalty.

Several years ago, I called to see if I could take advantage of a special deal with our then satellite service.

“That’s just for new customers,” I was told.

“I have been a customer for eight years,” I protested.

“I see that your contract is up,” the rep told me.

“What does that mean?”

“It means we can set you up as a new customer, which would give you the special rate for two years and give you new receivers.”

“And after two years?”

“After two years, just tell us you need to set up a new account again.”

That part was a lie.

But, I still stuck with them for about five more years until I finally switched to another one. It was only after some horrible customer service experience made me pull the plug, but I did.

The new satellite service seemed thrilled to have my business, too.

I still felt ambivalent about the whole thing. I had been a long-time customer of the other company; didn’t they care they lost my business?

Just a few weeks ago, I needed to replace a phone.

I have been with my cell phone provider for 12 years and through many, many phones.

Not only did I need to replace one phone, I wanted to add a line for my child.

I went in to the store and asked what phones I could get for free – I am all about free. I get it honestly; remember the silver trays?

I was told there were no free options for me and they would not be able to waive activation fees.

“But, if you were a new customer you could get brand new iPhones.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The guy who barely looked older than my teenager didn’t even blink. “Oh, no. I don’t kid about free iPhones. But you can’t get the offer if you are a new customer.”

Needless to say, I left.

I called a few days later and was told the same thing.

“If you were a new customer, we could give you free iPhones. But, you’re not. You’ve been with us a while.”

“So, I am basically punished because I have been a loyal customer?” I asked.

The person on the other end of the phone didn’t respond.

I went online to a competitor. “Looking to switch and add a line,” I wrote in the window.

“We are so happy to have you! Let me tell you the awesome deals we have for you!”

It was a bittersweet victory.

The company I had been with for close to 13 years didn’t seem to care they were losing my business – they were giving away free iPhones, so there were dozens of people to take my place.

But the new cell phone company was delighted to have acquired my business.

I felt dirty, used and abuse.

All I wanted was a free phone.

But unlike the days of the silver trays, customer loyalty was not rewarded.


I need a living, breathing person on the line (8/14/2013)

I had lost it. Like really, really, lost it. I was about to unleash the locusts. It was Saturday night and I could feel my blood boiling in my veins.

And all because I was trying to get a real live person on the other end of the phone.

My Internet connection kept dropping – not an ideal situation for me, seeing as I was trying to finish an annotated bibliography for a class.

Being the procrastinator master that I am, I had put this torture laden process off until the absolute last minute. I should have known that Sudie’s Law of Technological Malfunctions would mean the dingdang wireless connection would decide to take a hiatus at that very moment.

I called my provider and got that dreaded automated phone system. You know the one I am talking about – it’s that robo-woman with the voice that I guess is supposed to be considered soothing. She infuriates me and gets my Irish up to the point I scare the dogs.

Her annoying voice asks me what I need to do. I press three for tech support.

“To better serve you, tell me what you are calling about,” she says, like she is going to understand what I have to say.

I say “wireless Internet connection.” Just as plain as day. Didn’t stutter, didn’t mumble. I enunciated each syllable. Don’t tell me it’s because of my Southern twang they can’t understand me. These aggravating little roboticized nincompoops can understand accents far heavier than mine.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Did you say you’d like to ride an elephant?”

I took a deep breath and spoke louder. “Wireless. Internet. Connection.”

“I believe you said you would like mime the alphabet. Is that correct?”

I felt my scream building in my throat. Cole scatters with the dogs to the bedroom, calling like Paul Revere, “She’s about to blow! She’s on the phone and she’s about to blow!”

I was past the point of erupting. All I wanted was to talk to a real, live human being. Not some stupid machine that corporations erroneously thought would replace the interaction of a breathing person to better expedite the process.

Whoever thought a computer could offer better customer service than a person definitely had their head stuck somewhere dark and dank.

Finally – a man came on, named Matthew. And even though Matthew had a good old Midwest accent, he had no problem understanding my shrill complaint.

“I completely understand your frustration, Ms. Crouch,” he emphasized. “I would be upset too. Let me look into the problem and see if I can’t remedy it for you, I will get you to someone who can.”

“Will it be a real person?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he assured me. “It will be a real person and we will try our best to get this resolved tonight.”

Suddenly, my temper subsided. My blood pressure started creeping back to its normal level. All because I finally had heard a human voice, assuring me that this problem would be taken care of.

I was on the phone with Matthew for a few more minutes, then transferred to Byron.

Byron was just as nice and as concerned about getting my problem fixed as Matthew was.

Something robo-demon was not.

“Is there anything else I can help you with tonight, Ms. Crouch?” Byron asked as ended the call.

“Can you get rid of that annoying automated woman that is on every 800 number in the world?” I asked.

I knew he couldn’t but it didn’t hurt to ask.

I know for the most part, technology has made our lives a lot easier. But no matter how far we’ve come or what we create, we still can’t replace a good old living, breathing empathizing human being.